Sunday, October 28, 2018

Bartimaeus And Reconciliation

This is the the homily given for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Have you ever wondered why there are so many stories of healings in the Gospels? What is the purpose? They can come across as stories to tell us what a nice a caring guy Jesus was.  Is that it?  Or is there more going on?

In the Gospels, everything that Jesus says and does points to His central mission.  From the Incarnation through the preaching of the Gospel through the Passion and Death through the Resurrection and past the Ascension, it is made clear that everything Jesus says and does points to the reconciliation of God and humanity through the forgiveness of sin.  He wants this so much that on the very day of the Resurrection, in the Gospel of John, Jesus charges His apostles to forgive sins in is name. So how do the miracle stories such as the story of Bartimaeus from today's Gospel point to that?

In the Scriptures, disease was seen as a symbol of sin. Blindness was seen in this way.  Blindness reduced its victim to a life reduced to begging.  When Jesus gives Bartimaeus his sight back, He is doing more than restoring use of his eyes, He is restoring him to everything lost by the blindness. For that blindness to be alleviated, steps must be taken first.  First, Bartimaeus must recognize the obvious fact that he is blind. Second, he must have hope that Jesus can cure him. Third, he must approach in faith for that cure. Finally, fourth, he must live anew as one who can see.

The first step is that of humility. He must recognize that he is blind and that this blindness is not to his good. This is instructive to us. Humility is honesty before God.  In humility we see where we are strong, but we also see where we are weak, where we fail, where we need healing, and how these things are holding us down. Humility will lead us to hope.  As Bartimaeus hopes that Jesus wants to cure him and can cure him, so we must have hope that Jesus does want to cure us and in doing so, reconcile us to the Father. Are these not necessary towards making a good confession?  We must have the courage to cry out as Bartimaeus did, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  We must realize what he did: Jesus can save us and wants to do so.

Jesus does want to make us whole through the forgiveness of our sins. He beckons for us when we call out for Him.  One of my primary jobs as a priest is to say ,"Get up, take courage, Jesus is calling for you!"  It is what I am doing at this moment! It is what I do every time I teach and preach about the sacrament of Reconciliation. Don't let the fear that you can't be forgiven keep you silent on the side of the road! Don't let the demonic lie that God doesn't want to forgive you still your tongue from calling out for the mercy of the Son of David! Do not let the delusional deceit of pride quiet your will believing that you are not blind. Jesus is calling you: Take courage...get up!

Notice that Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants Him to do?  Could Jesus not see that he was blind? The next step for Bartimaeus is that of faith.  Humility and hope have led him to this encounter with Christ!  Let faith in the power of Christ through the sacraments He Himself gave us lead you to the place to be able to say in the confessional . Master, I want to see!" When we confess our sins, have sorrow for them, and wish to be free of them, we tell Christ we want to see. Christ does not force His grace upon us, we must ask in faith for that grace.  He is all too happy to give it to us if we wish to be truly free of our sins and its attendant blindness. Notice the words of Jesus, "Your faith has saved you."  Jesus responds to our humility, hope, and faith with His power to restore us to the Father.

The story is not over though.  What does Bartimaeus do next?  Does he go back to the roadside and resume begging? Does he pluck his eyes out or blindfold himself because he missed the blindness. No.  We are told he starts to follow Jesus. Reconciliation through confession is not a call to pick where we left off. No, the conversion of heart is meant to draw us to the love that Christ lives and follow it in our own lives.  In our trip through humility, hope, and faith, we end up pursuing a different path set by the love of Christ.

This innocent enough story of a blind beggar is a call to conversion and reconciliation!  Let us be humble in understanding where we need to be healed.  Let us break the shackles of fear and pride, and place our hope that Jesus does want to heal us and restore us.  I bid you, "Get up, take courage, Jesus is calling you!"  In faith, approach Him in Confession and tell Him "I want to see!"  The great truth is that He wants you to see as well. That is why He gave the Apostles the authority and duty to forgive sins in His name. If we are to pursue Christ and the life Hes ets us to, we must get up from the side of the road and ask for His grace.

Get up!  Take Courage! Jesus is calling you!
Tell Him , "Master, I want to see!" 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Leaving the Church Indulgent

My experience of the Catholic Church is limited. My first contact was in 1977 when I was a 6th grader. I have no experiential understanding of the Church prior to those dates.  I know that many who do have either a tendency to paint it as a time unparalleled while many others paint as dark and oppressive time.
I do have plenty of experience in the Church after 1977.  having been in the seminary system at some point for 13 years, a priest for 21, and a pastor for 18 years.  I also have an appreciation of history and its ebb and flow. The same Church that embraced the utter simplicity of Carmelites and Carthusians also embraced the ornate styles of the Rococo and Romance periods.
Through this, though, has been a single thread: the Church consistently teaching the Deposit of Faith through each epoch. How that was lived out from age to age varied into an 'all-in' attitude in times of persecution to a lethargy in low ebbs and time of great indulgence.  Oftentimes, these churches grow up side by side.
The Church in Africa, particularly Nigeria, is suffering greatly from persecutions.  So too the Church in the Middle East, China, and India.  We see priests kidnapped and murdered in such places and in Mexico as well.  These are churches in the crucible. In the west, though, I see a very different Church...not a Church suffering, but a Church indulgent.
In Europe and most of North America, I see a Church indulgent.  I see a church populated by those with the luxury of time and freedom of movement and expression. This is not to say that are not those who do eschew the life of indulgence and practice the faith well; they are the minority though. I see pushes for every indulgent activity to be at best turned a blind eye towards and at worst embraced.  Pornography plagues the society.  Any and all perversions of human sexuality have champions and the power to make changes to allow for them. Worship has been reduced to a 'what I like" power struggle where we act as if the Church has no opinion or teachings on what worship is to look like. The teachings of Christ are treated more as an anesthesia to numb us into false joy and condone our indulgence than a wake-up call to conversion and repentance,
Perhaps in fewer places is this more clearly seen than in our attitudes to fasting, abstinence, and mortification. They and any somber style in liturgy and music are almost seen with derision by many.  It is as if they simply were wiped off the face of practiced Catholicism. It would seem that the Church simply did away with most all of this and fenced in the woeful remainders of such practice into Lent...as a way of making us miserable.  The more indulgent a society becomes the more anathema fasting, abstinence, and mortification will become. We want the spiritual candy without any of the nasty tasting veggies.
But a diet of junk food and candy, as tasty as it might seem, will stunt and hurt the health of the person.  It will lead to multiple problems so many of the body's physiological systems. By the same token, when the practice of faith is regulated to only what I like, it is to the determent of our souls. The more we embrace indulgence as a matter of lifestyle, the more we will demand as much in our spiritual life. The worship of God will become what makes me feel something (the worship of the person) as opposed to being directed to God...hence what the Church wants and teaches in worship will become as relevant as the nutritional information of food is in a toddler's mind.
A Church indulgent is a pox to the Church Militant.
We have a job to do.  In any field in which one is dedicated to excellence, proper training is necessary. Part of that proper training for us as Catholics is the training that comes from fasting, abstinence, mortifications, and (yes) tithing.  How is this training?
Fasting, abstinence, mortification, and tithing train us to be freed of indulgence. In purposely re-allocating the use of our time and resources to that which frees us from enslavement to indulgence is like spiritually dieting and loosing the excess weight that wears on our entire soul. It makes us lean and healthy. It also helps us keep our eyes fixed on where they should be: on the battle waging. It also helps the rest of the Body of Christ become healthy.
Fasting, abstinence, mortification, and tithing also help us understand we are not built for mere life in this world, but for eternal life. It teaches us that valuable lesson that the world need not cater to my every whim. That leads to a freeing posture that Mass is not about what I like, but about the worship of the God as the Church sees fit.
You see, only the indulgent man or woman would see fasting, abstinence, mortifications, and tithing as sorrow inducing misery.  The well ordered man and woman would see them a joyous opportunities to detach from worldliness and embrace the life of Beatitude. remember, the life of beatitude is seen by Christ as necessary for the Kingdom of Heaven. The life of indulgence will surely keep a person our of heaven as excess baggage would keep you from entering a narrow gate.
Fasting, abstinence, mortifications, and tithing are not designed to induce misery.  They might seem as much to the person trying to transition from indulgence. That is why doing these things not just in Lent, but throughout the year is important.  One should take into account one's health into this. This is why mandatory fasting in the Church does not apply to everyone in Canon Law.
Use of the sacraments are absolutely necessary.  The grace of God is necessary to transition from indulgence to freedom.  The Lord needs you to be a lean fighting machine who can witness to the world the freedom that comes from being unshackled from the chains of indulgence and its powertrain of selfishness.
If we really want to change the Church in the west, it will come through fasting, abstinence, mortifications, and tithing fueled by the sacramental grace God gives us in the sacramental life of the Church. Just as in the human body, the healthy parts bolster and help the unhealthy parts find health again.  When a cleric says that you shouldn't have to do acts of penance because you didn't do something, it shows a deplorable understanding of the Body of Christ.  We are in this together.
We need in the west, to go from being a Church Indulgent to being a forceful and effective Church Militant. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

It Can't Be About Me: A Reflection on Priesthood

One of the greatest errors most people make is in trying to make their lives about themselves. Such a dank existence revolves around trying to fill an insatiable hole with an array of self-serving appetites, self-centered pleasure, and a unquenchable desire for attention. Those around such a person are caught up in trying to please a person who cannot be pleased unless they are endlessly adored and obeyed without dissent.

Clergy of every level are not exempt from such temptations. In fact, by virtue of the office they hold, an unspoken presumption of unwavering obedience seems built in. Priesthood can be a dangerous place for a narcissist.

Priesthood, live correctly, points away from the priest. He values leading in order to serve, not to rule. As a priest, I take my cues from Jesus and the Blessed Mother. Jesus says of Himself that He came to serve, not to be served and to give his life as a ransom for the many. He who is the Incarnate God says such about Himself. How can I as a priest of Jesus Christ say anything more about myself? There is no room for princes here, only servants. The Blessed Mother proclaims herself the servant of the Lord, offering herself to God's will.  She tells the servants at Cana to do what Jesus tells them to do. Should not such a disposition be my own in how I guide a parish?!

To whit: at Mass the focus should not be on me as a priest. Nor should it be on the congregation. We do not come to Mass to worship either the priest or the congregation. We come to worship God. As a priest, I am not called to be a master showman.  If I do so, I am removing the focus from God to me. Make no mistake, this is mortally dangerous.

Why? Because if my words do not point to Christ, I become a hindrance to salvation. At best I am an irritating gong belching pablum. At worst, I am a demonic lacky spreading seeds of confusion and rebellion in the garden of the Lord. If my actions are the theological equivalent of giant neon sign begging the observer to be entertained by my grand showmanship, I am taking your focus away from what can and does save you. It is Christ's sacrifice on the Cross that brings the possibility of salvation.  It is the giving of His Flesh and Blood through the Eucharist that breathes life into you. My job as a priest is to point there by word and action.

I will assure you if a cleric makes it about himself at Mass, an act of supreme arrogance,  he will make it about himself everywhere. He will compromise faith to get the desired self-satisfying lauds of praise for his derring do. He will rebel against authority whilst demanding unswerving obedience to all he says. It is in this dangerous ground that the seeds of scandal will be planted and harvested. As with anyone,  his appetites will be unquenchable and the attempt to quench them, no matter how sinful and scandalous, will be justified every single step of the way.

It is for all these reasons that Jesus pleads for disciples to embrace humility. Humility informs us that only God can fill the sum of all our desires. No amount of money, praise, attention,  sex, pleasure, or numbing agents can fill our need. The humble priest knows that if his words and actions do not point to Christ,  then he is a danger to his flock. He knows only with God's grace can he lead. He fears not anger. He knows doing and saying the right thing might well bring on anger. It did in the life of Jesus.

So many of the problems the Church has suffered over two millennia can be laid at the feet of clerics who made it about themselves. If we are to turn things around, all of us, lay and clergy, must live lives that point away from ourselves and point to Christ.  I say both because it has been from the ranks of the laity that have come the clergy. I am fond of reminding people that I did not emerge from my mother's womb at the age of 31 wearing a Roman Collar.  For the first 30 of those years I was a layperson. Teach humility in the home.  Live humility in the home. Seminaries are not magic shows. They can only form what is given them. Send in a strong man...a humble man...and despite the seminary he goes to, he comes a strong and humble priest. That strong humble priest will serve well, for he won't make the priesthood about himself.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Wary Shepherd



Being a shepherd isn't easy.

A shepherd is not always the owner of the sheep.  He must take care of the sheep as the owner of the sheep desires.  He must feed the sheep what and where the owner wants them to eat. He must remember he is answerable for the sheep entrusted to him.

A shepherd must be aware that predators want to devour his flock.  They want to gorge themselves on every single ewe and lamb. In fact, the wolves would like to make a meal of the shepherd as well. A strong shepherd they will fear.  A weak shepherd they will target.

A shepherd must be aware that the wolves would like him to become like them so that they may prey freely on the flock.  They will welcome a shepherd who preys on the flock as well. They will encourage the shepherd to prey on his own flock without compunction.  If the wolves cannot co-op the shepherd to prey on his own flock, then they will look to destroy him.

The shepherd must know the wolves are wise and wily. They will do their best to fool the sheep into a false sense of security. They will encourage them to wander far from the flock. The shepherd must  train the sheep to listen to his voice and trust him over the wolves. The shepherd must be on guard against the wolves for his own good and good of the flock.

The shepherd must take the flock where the owner wants.  He must trust that where the owner wants the flock to be is to the benefit of all. The shepherd must lead through verdant meadows and craggy mountain passes.  He must keep sure of his own footing and be attentive to the footing of the flock, especially those who find the more difficult parts of the path too hard. With adept skill, a wary shepherd negotiates the most treacherous of trails and trains his flock to do the same.

The shepherd must be cautious of what the sheep consume.  Pretty flowers can oftentimes be toxic poisons. He must steer his flock away from what is toxic lest they become fitting prey for the wolves.  He must also avoid eating what is toxic, lest while in a diminished state the ever-present wolves snatch members of the flock or attack him.

The shepherd must also be aware of other shepherds. He must be able to tell the difference between a shepherd who is good at being a shepherd, a shepherd who bad at being a shepherd, and a wolf dressed as a shepherd. He must not allow the poor example of poor shepherds or the nefarious example of wolves in shepherd's clothing cause him to despair, compromise, or abandon his post.

Finally, the shepherd must know he represents to the owner of the flock.  The flock will presume that the shepherd is doing what the owner wants.  His diligence, care, protection, and skill point beyond himself and to the owner of the flock.

Bishops and priest are shepherds of a flock that belongs to Christ.  He calls us to be these wary, skilled, protective, and wise men who will be good at shepherding.  Parents are those shepherds, especially dads, of the flock entrusted to them in their spouse and children.  Christ has the same expectation of parents in regards to their families as he does pastors and bishops of his churches.

When we shepherds fall short of our duties, we allow our flocks to be picked off. We invite the wolves in to prey of the flock. Or abandon the flock and our flocks suffer greatly.  As the flock assigned us--- be it a bishop to a diocese, a pastor to his parish, or a parent to their spouse and children--- is not ours but God's first.  We are held accountable to Christ for what we did with his flock.  We must cultivate virtue in each of us to be those who are good at shepherding.  We must cultivate them in the lambs as they will one day share in that role of  that shepherding. One cannot prey on the lambs and train simultaneously  the lambs to be good shepherds.

One of the primary reasons Camp Maccabee was founded was to train men to be good shepherds.  To be a man who is good at shepherding, one must pursue virtue, holiness, and be a reflection of the Good Shepherd to that part of the flock of Christ entrusted to him. In an age where we see the fallout and grievous damage of bad shepherds, we don't abandon the flock, we raise up good shepherds will lead their flocks as Christ, the Good Shepherd, would have it done.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Walking on the Via Dolorosa: Scandal and Betrayal in our Church

The Church in the United States is in troubled times.  Truth be told, she has been for decades. As we stand on the shore looking at what might be the outer bands of a category 5 hurricane, looking around us and wondering what we will left standing once the storm has passed, and looking with worry on how things will be rebuilt, it is easy and understandable that many might rage at this storm.  Once again, we walk the Via Dolorosa (the way of Sorrow...the Way of the Cross) as we pass through this scandal.

Feeling Desecrated

On the night of July 23rd, 2016, while I pastor of St. Clement Church in Bowling Green Mo, my parish church was desecrated. A person had entered the church with bags of human feces and smeared them on the altar, lectern, confessionals, statue of the Blessed Mother, baptismal font, presider's chair tabernacle, and managing to find the key to the tabernacle, mixed it with the Blessed Sacrament.  She had poured wine on the vestments, threw unconsecrated bread on floor, poured out the Holy Oils into the carpet, and desecrated the Holy water.  It was a surgical attack.

I was away from the parish running Camp Maccabee. When the sheriff called (he is a parishioner) and told me what had happened, it was like getting hit by a car at full speed.  My bishop told me to stay where I was for the media would be besieging the place and the church could not be used for any sacrament until the desecration was addressed. It was the longest week of my life.  When I returned home, I mourned.  I wrote on this blog a posts called "The Long Good Friday."  On the following Saturday, a minor exorcism, Mass of reparation, and re-consecration took place so that the Masses for the weekend could take place back in the church.

I was blown away by the immediate response of my flock.  I cannot imagine the violation and grief they felt coming into the church that Sunday morning and finding things as they were.  Never being presented with such a thing in my priesthood, I knew what words I would say could make or break things.  I prayed intensely, asking for guidance.  I wrote about caution and mercy in the face of such great evil.  Word started getting back to me that almost all of my parishioners were already looking to being merciful. As details unfolded about the soul who did this, we found out it was not a stranger.  The person was Catholic, but also was practicing Wicca. There was mental illness involved. We had helped this lady on multiple occasions.    It hurt.

I remember in one of the conversations I had with the bishop at the time, Bishop John Gaydos.  I remember him clearly telling me not to allow this to change me or my parish to the negative. The devil will use tragedy to plant seeds of white hot hatred and a burning desire for vengeance. When the church was exorcised, the reparations made, and the Blessed Sacrament restored to His rightful home, it was like a intense darkness had been lifted.  Praying before the Blessed Sacrament after the Eucharistic Procession around the exterior and interior of the Church, I wept with joy that the darkness was gone.

Some of my parishioners offered to raise bail money for the woman and we started the process for attaining the ability to absolve (must come from Rome as to absolve for desecration of the Blessed Sacrament must be granted by the Holy See).  Unfortunately, the woman committed suicide before that could happen.

Feeling Desecrated Again

 When we read through the Pennsylvania's Attorney General's Grand Jury Report, it like reading a description of hell. As the sins of a high ranking American prelate are exposed and the attendant cover-up by those who knew is also exposed, it is easy for those who love the Church to feel as if we are walking through a desecrated church. These activities are as unwelcome and heinous within the church as the human feces were in the parish church of St. Clement. The smell is equally sickening.  The feelings of rage, fury, anger, and wrath from those who love the Church are warranted.  However, what happened at St. Clement might well be a tutorial for how to handle this crisis.

Cleaning up the feces

The parishioners had a disagreeable task that Sunday morning.  They came to worship God, but they now had to clean up human feces smeared on their beloved church and in the Blessed Sacrament. It was nasty work.  However, the first stage of healing was cleaning up. The fecal matter was removed. Items that were beyond repair (Roman Missal, Lectionary, some clothes, and Ciborium) were set aside so that they could be buried in the cemetery later. Vestments were sent to the cleaners.  The only visible scar was where the oils had been poured into the carpet.  Despite best efforts, it could not be removed.

Likewise, we have to remove what has been desecrated.   That will take a thorough cleaning of sins we have allowed to reside in our church for generations.  These actions came as a result of beliefs.  Tolerance of sinfulness, especially in regards to human sexuality, led to the mentality that made it seem that molestation of children (mostly boys), abuse of power over seminarians and young priests, and that when caught, thought as merely unfortunate, that it must be covered up led to a toxic atmosphere that brought great darkness. This tolerance of sinfulness spilled into every avenue of church life.  the same hands doing these nefarious things were the same hands that presided at Mass.  These were the same hands that taught, preached, and led flocks. This tolerance of sinfulness must be expunged from our midst, as disagreeable a task as it might be, just as the remnants of the desecration had to be done.

This will require must self-reflection on the part of many.  It will hurt.  It will smell. But it must be done.

However expunging this will not be enough.

Exorcising and Reparation

Just as my parish Church had to be exorcized and reparations for the grievous sin against the Blessed Sacrament had to be made, so to must any and all influence of the devil must be exorcized from our church and reparations must be made to address in justice these sinful acts.

I see many articles screaming for heads.  Maybe these people resign.  I don't know.  If they do or don't can not stop all of us from calling for and acting upon the removal of the false teachings, lax morality, and acceptance of deviant behavior that got us here.  I really believe that the loss of transcendence (not called for by Vatican II or the General Instruction of the Roman Missal) and Faustian deal struck with the world's morality paired with a complete dismissal of the devil, demonic forces, and entities left us collectively open to these attacks.  We must rebuild the ramparts against these attacks knowing that the devil has not one intention of doing anything but stepping up his attacks.

Reparations to God must be made.  Whether by neglect, leaving ourselves open, acceptance of evil, or turning a blind eye to evil, we have neglected and abused the great gift given us by Christ in His bride. Many are calling for the bishops to collectively make reparations and penance.  That is appropriate.  However, as St. Paul reminds us that when one part of the body suffers, all suffer. Many are in the midst of a Novena Rosary that started on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and ends with the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (Oct. 7th).  Perhaps joining ourselves to this as an act of reparation for this country and our church in this country might well achieve such an end.  Details can be found at  www.romancatholicman.com/54-day-rosary-novena-for-our-nation-august-15-october-7/  . We all have a vested interest in doing our part towards the exorcising and reparations of our Church.

Final Thoughts

How my parish handled the desecration said much about who they are.  Although I would never wish for such to ever happen, the desecration told me they were in a good place, that wanting to live the Gospel in the most heartbreaking of circumstance was desired, and they ended up stronger for having gone through such a crucible.  They made their Via Dolorosa in those dark days.  But we all know the story of Christ doesn't end with the Cross of the tomb.  It continues on through the Resurrection and Ascension.

The hurricane will pass. There will be damage.  We will have to rebuild.

We will have to make this Via Dolorosa.  Each step will test us.  Let us not lose sight nor hope on where the road eventually leads.  Christ defeated the devil through the Cross. We will also defeat the devil by carry this cross as Christ carried His.  We will have to exercise forgiveness and mercy from our cross as Christ did from His.  It will be difficult.

My parish ended stronger after their Via Dolorosa.  The Catholic Church in this country can be stronger when this is done.  It all hinges on our decisions and reactions.  Just remember, none of the other apostles walked away from Christ because of the sins of Judas.  Neither can we walk away from following Christ because of the Judases in out church home.  Virtue in the face of vice must be how we handle this desecration of the Church in our country.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pentecost


This last week we had our confirmation Mass for the 10 juniors who got confirmed this year.  In his homily, Bishop Shawn McKnight reminded those being confirmed that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not being given to them for their own good, but for the good of all.  This certainly is in line with the teaching of Jesus Christ. When sending out the disciples to prepare the way for Him, He tells them, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) It is easy to have a merit badge mentality about the sacraments. We go through preparation and classes and at the end receive the sacrament almost as a graduation certificate.  This accounts for why so many bail on the practice of the faith upon receiving whatever sacrament it be until it is time to receive the next sacrament.  If we go to that first outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we can plainly see that the gifts of grace given through the sacraments are not ordered merely for the good of the person receiving them.

Out Into the Streets

                In the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-40, we hear of that first outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the immediate effects that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had on the apostles and those gathered in the Upper Room.  At the Ascension, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be sent to the Apostles and disciples as they were to continue the mission He started.  For 10 days they waited in the Upper Room, the location of the Last Supper, in watchful prayer waiting for that gift of the Holy Spirit. 

                Upon the reception of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and disciples immediately leave the Upper Room to head into the streets of Jerusalem and boldly proclaim the Gospel.  St. Peter, who only 53 days earlier had thrice denied knowing Jesus, now boldly proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He urges those hearing him to be stirred to belief in Christ.  The gift given to St. Peter and those gathered in the Upper Room was given because they had a mission to do.  From Pentecost on, the Apostles and disciples would fan out through the known world to proclaim the Gospel.  For nearly two millennia, Catholics had gone to the four corners of the world, to almost every tribe and nation, to proclaim the Gospel. Many would give their lives in this proclamation.  Some still do to this day.

A Public and not Private Faith

                As with those in the Upper Room, so with us.  In every sacrament we are given something of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly in confirmation we are given this Holy Spirit in very explicit way.  However, all sacraments are made present to us through the working of the Holy Spirit.  No more than the gifts of the Holy Spirit were treated as a private devotion or merit badge by those first Christians can it be treated so by us.  Through the working of the Holy Spirit, we are to be every bit the agent for radical change to this culture that St. Peter and those in the Upper Room were to the city of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. No more than the Apostles could remain in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost can we stay in the shadows in our own day.

                The Catholic faith is meant by its very nature to be sign to the world.  We are to stick out as different to the cultures in which we live.  We are to be champions for those in need, for the defenseless, for the searching, and for the poor. Our morals are not to be shaped by worldly morals.  In the Great High Priest Prayer of John 17: 1-26, Jesus prays on the night of the Last Supper that the Church He is about to found through His own Flesh and Blood would recognize the uniqueness of what is to happen.  He reminds us that we are not of this world. We live in the world and cultures in which we find ourselves, but we are to be bold witnesses in each and every one of those cultures.  When we don’t, we fall into the sin of Laodicea: lukewarmness.  The natural byproduct of lukewarmness is a Catholic whose life is indistinguishable from the culture in which we live.  It is this blandness of faith, this wasting of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus finds so repugnant that He vomits it from His mouth (Rev 3:16).

                Because so many Catholics have turned a public faith to a private hobby, we have lost ground in our culture.  From the breakdown of the family, to the disrespect for human life in all stages, to the approval of the gross misuse of human sexuality, to the falling practice of the faith, to the dropping of priestly and religious vocation, Catholicism has ceded ground in the name of getting along in our society.  Our mission, as Catholics, is to infuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit into the culture around us.

                Where there is ignorance, we use the gift of wisdom. Where there is bias and prejudice, we use the gift of understanding. Where there is doubt, we use the gift of counsel. Where there are lies and propaganda, we use the gift of knowledge. Where there compromise, we use the gift of piety. Where there is rebellion, we use the gift of the fear of the Lord. Where there is fear, we use the gift of fortitude.  None of these gifts are given us to be stored as trophies to gather dust.  They are given to us to effect positive change in the culture around us.  Our faith is not a trophy nor a pious hobby, but an active agent for true and lasting change in our world.

Forging Ahead

                These gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for the purpose of the Mission of Jesus Christ to make known the Gospel, and this is to greatly inform the direction, institutions, and mission of this parish.  It is my job as pastor to commandeer all of these and order them to the mission of Jesus Christ. Our ability to do this can be concretely measured in visible criteria.  All of our educational apparatuses are to be changed so as to be unapologetically orthodox in teaching.  Along with this honing of our educational systems, we will be teaching the necessary wisdom and charity to apply these teachings so as to provoke conversion.  Alongside of this, I wish to see our parish profile be more public in the community in which we live. I will also be provoking people to make our faith public in how they set their priorities.  This is especially true with how priorities are set for their children!

                The gifts of the Holy Spirit bear fruit.  Abandoning lukewarmness for the fervor of the Gospel bears fruit.  Measurable criteria include Mass attendance, participation in various educational programs and social outreach, and most strongly in being a parish that produces priestly and religious vocations.  I end with this: In Luke 12:49, Jesus says, “I came to set the world afire, how I wish it were already kindled.” To live as Christ seeks demands we leave the lukewarmness of Laodicea behind and embrace the fire of that first Pentecost! Pentecost is considered the birth of the Church, it becomes the template by we are measured.

       

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Lukewarm Parishes Part 4


The second recommendation of Jesus to the Church of Laodicea to correct their lukewarm nature was to “buy white garments in which to be clothed, if the shame of your nakedness is to be covered.” (Rev 3:18) Laodicea was well known in the cloth trade.  Its cloths were made of the dark wool of the sheep raised in the region.  It would seem madness from this vantage point to bleach the local wool to a bright white.  The ears of the Laodiceans who first heard this message would well understand what was being asked.

Standing Out, Not Blending In

                To understand what makes lukewarmness so very tempting is to understand that lukewarmness is the temperature of compromise.  Lukewarmness lacks the fiery heat of passion or the icy cold of hatred.  It blends into whatever is around it.  It is a spiritual chameleon. The lukewarm do not like to stick out.  Playing it safe is the goal of the lukewarm.  The huge problem with this is that they drift where the society drifts.  They adopt externally, at least, whatever the surrounding culture adopts. They either adopt or sit in silence.  Either way they refuse to stick out.

                For the Church of Laodicea, being part of the Roman Empire, there was a vested interest in blending into the populace.  So much of what Christianity embraced was in direct opposition to the Greco-Roman culture and Rule of Law.  Concepts we take for granted such as the dignity of the human person, family life, the role of government, the role of religion, human sexuality, and other items were viewed radically different from the morals and ways of governance of the Roman Empire.  In the face of such things, the Laodiceans took the position with their Christian faith to hold internally to Christian beliefs, do only what was safe, and then publicly hold a different stance from their internal beliefs.

                Spiritual lukewarmness leads to the same deal with the devil.  It is the all too common “I am personally opposed but…” deal where a compartmentalization of the person comes into play.  Lukewarmness leads to that wiggle room that allows a cafeteria approach to faith.  There are certainly a boatload of issues that our popular culture takes offense at with the Church to this day.  In fact, let’s be honest, it still is same list as before: the dignity of the human person (especially in abortion), family life, the role the government, the role of religion, human sexuality, and so on.  In our own country, to hold morals contrary to the popular morals leads to derision, ridicule, and other forms of public humiliation.  In other areas of the world it can lead to imprisonment, lawsuits, suspension of human rights, and in some areas, death.    

                Yet in all of this, Christ wants us to stick out.  He wants us to be as different in appearance to the world as we are belief.  This is threatening.  It is worth noting that in the Roman Empire, despite sporadic and intense persecutions over three centuries, the Christians grew from a handful of believers measured in the hundreds to a dominant faith numbering in the millions.  It did this without returning violence for violence or persecution for persecution.  They stood out.  They stood tall. They held their ground.  They won the day.

With Clear Sight

                Finally, Jesus tells them to “buy ointment to smear on your eyes, if you would see once more.”  Again, to the Laodiceans, this would sound familiar.  According to Greek historian Strabo, there was a medical school in Laodicea.  In the region was a key ingredient used in eye lotions.  Jesus compares their lukewarmness to a blurred vision.  Perhaps the lack of fire in their faith comes from a willful resistance to see the truth of the Gospel. The Church of Laodicea does not see themselves as in such a state as Jesus does.  In verse 17 of the same chapter, earlier Jesus says, “You keep saying, “I am so rich and secure and I want for nothing.” Little do you realize how wretched you are, how pitiable and poor, how blind and naked!” 

                Jesus tells his disciples, “The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)  Clear vision is necessary for conversion.  As individuals and as a parish, we need to ask ourselves in all honesty as to whether we effectively witness to those in our lives and to the community as a whole.  The clearest place to see this in our personal lives is the list of priorities we set in our life and why we choose one thing over another.

                Our Christian ancestors were willing to risk everything to follow Christ.  They left all manner of safety, security, comfort, and convenience behind.  Even today, many in our world are made to make the same choices. Their courage should encourage us. 

                To be blunt: when we make choices between faith and other things, who wins?  Is faith something we fit into the rest of our schedule?  Do we drop Mass when it becomes inconvenient to other things going on?  Do we feel compelled to take on a worldly moral just to keep the peace?  Do we adopt a worldly moral because it is more convenient to our lives?  Do we resent a teaching of Christ because to accept it means to take a unpopular stance? Does a worldly way of looking at life influence our faith (political party for example) or do we seek to use our faith to influence society?  Do we compromise some elements of the faith to move ahead?  Do we teach our children that faith, the practice of faith, or the deepening of faith all take a back seat to getting ahead in this world?  Do we prioritize sports, leisure, work, entertainment, and such over our faith?  The more we answer yes, the more lukewarm we are.  Remember, again, that Jesus finds lukewarmness so revolting that He spews it out of His mouth.  Can we be spewed from the mouth of Christ and still enter heaven?